'No pressure on Indian team at Champions Trophy because of spot-fixing scam'
Aunshuman Gaekwad, who opened the innings with Sunil Gavaskar in Test matches and faced the hostile West Indian fast bowlers with guts and gumption, was one of the successful coaches of Team India. An intelligent man with independent thoughts, Gaekwad talks cricket -- the IPL spot-fixing scam and India's performance -- at the Champions Trophy in a freewheeling conversation with Haresh Pandya.
Do you think Indian cricketers are under some sort of psychological pressure because of the recent spot-fixing scandal in the IPL and it may affect their performance in the Champions Trophy?
No, I don't think there is any sort of pressure, not even psychological, on the Indian players in the Champions Trophy because of the raging controversy. As professional cricketers they should be mentally tough. Of course, it will be the duty of the coach and other support staff of the team to tell the young and inexperienced players to remain focused. Just because three unknown cricketers have figured in the spot-fixing scam, it isn't fair to treat others as if they all are involved. Remember, others found involved aren't cricketers but bookies and other people.
Will the latest spot-fixing controversy reduce the popularity of cricket in India to some extent?
No, not at all! Nothing can affect the popularity of cricket in India. Even after the spot-fixing scam was unearthed, and skeletons were stumbling out of the closet, the grounds, where the rest of the IPL matches were held, were packed to capacity. And remember, this is only spot-fixing in a popular event, not match-fixing in serious international cricket. In the past, when the match-fixing racket figuring some leading cricketers was busted, the game's popularity and reputation remained intact in this country.
Image: (Top) Team India players; (Below) Aunshuman Gaekwad
'Can't do away the IPL just because some people are misusing it'
There are some who feel that the Board of Control for Cricket in India should do away with the IPL. What is your take on this?
The IPL is the best possible thing that has happened not just to Indian cricket but to the world of sport in recent years. It's a pity that some greedy players and other elements have misused it. But look at the brighter side of the IPL. What and how much it has done for cricket and players.
Besides the welcome money, it has provided a platform to many unknown players to showcase their talents. You get to see many captains with different strategies, new innovations in batting and bowling techniques, breathtaking fielding and incredible catching. I must admit that hitting a six wasn't this easy during my playing days. But look at today's scenario, thanks to the IPL, virtually every player hits sixes almost at will. There're people who used to say Rahul Dravid is only a specialist Test batsman. But he proved himself not only in One-Day cricket but also in Twenty20 cricket. Even at the age of 40, he batted like A dream in the recent IPL and led his team from the front.
But we cannot ignore the stark reality that some evils have entered the game just because of the IPL, can we?
I don't deny it. But, as I said earlier, just because some people are trying to misuse it and giving it a bad name, you can't do away with the IPL, which is here to stay. It's like cutting your entire hand just because there is pain in your finger. As they say, you can't throw away the baby with the bathwater. Don't forget, the law is there, the authorities are there, to punish the culprits and handle any tricky situation. There is no point quibbling over everything. We must learn to accept new things.
Image: S Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan
'Sehwag, Gambhir, Yuvraj deserved to be dropped'
Enough of the IPL and the spot-fixing controversy! How do you rate India's chances in the Champions Trophy?
I can't say straightaway that India will be in the final or that we'll become champions. You've to be realistic and the reality is that there're seven other strong teams in the fray. England is always a difficult place to play cricket in. In our days it used to be said that unless a cricketer performs well in England, where both weather and wickets pose challenges, he can't be called truly world-class. It's true even today. Our players, most of them are very young and inexperienced, will have to be very focused and come out of the spell of the slam-bang Twenty20 cricket. Unlike Twenty20 cricket, where you can rely on a couple of players to win matches, One-Day cricket calls for a collective team effort. And it's sustained collective performance that can take a team far in a tournament like Champions Trophy.
What do you like about the Indian team for the Champions Trophy?
I'm happy that it's packed with talented youngsters. Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja and Bhuvneshwar Kumar -- they're very gifted and exciting to watch. I for one don't lament the loss of seniors like Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan. They weren't performing despite getting many opportunities, so they deserved to be dropped.
Image: Virender Sehwag
'Bhuvaneshwar must exploit English conditions to his advantage'
Do you think Mahendra Singh Dhoni has any trump card in the Champions Trophy?
I don't think so. But I would put my money on Jadeja and Bhuvneshwar to excel with the ball in English conditions. Given his ability to out-swing, in-swing and even reverse-swing the ball, Bhuvneshwar must exploit the English conditions and wickets to his advantage. But even if Jadeja and Bhuvneshwar bowl well, they will need to be complemented by the Indian batsmen with runs on the board. The slam-bang approach of the IPL won't work in this format and that too in England, where wickets are slower and lower. I think Vijay has the right game and attitude for One-Day cricket -- solid in defence, strong in attack. Much the same could be said about Kohli. Suresh Raina will need to show some patience at the crease.
Considering his brilliant performance in England as captain and leading batsman of India A in 2010, and his big scores against James Anderson, Graeme Swann and other English bowlers in the recent Test series in India, don't you think Cheteshwar Pujara should have been in the Indian team for the Champions Trophy?
Yes, he should have been an automatic choice. But I think that like Dravid early in his career, Pujara is also being labelled as Test specialist. But he has the talent and technique, as well as attitude, to emerge as a very effective and successful One-Day batsman. He is already a world-class batsman, who is outstanding both when defending and attacking. Pujara, who has already proved his class as a Test batsman, can rotate the strike and convert 1s into 2s and 2s into 3s. We must not forget that the Champions Trophy is a 50-overs-a-side tournament, not 20-ovrs-a-side, and we should select players accordingly.
Image: Bhuvaneshwar Kumar